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RECREATING THE QUANTITATIVE CLASSROOM FOR ADULT LEARNERS

Bruce K. Blaylock, Radford University Garland Wiggs, Radford University Thomas Lachowicz, Radford University

[email protected] ABSTRACT Are college students "child" learners or "adult" learners? Student engagement strategies have long been used in quantitative classrooms, but the assumption of instructors has largely remained the person primarily responsible for learning is the instructor. This paper suggests college students in the business quantitative analysis course should be provided an adult learning environment. We further suggest this can be accomplished by adopting a problem-based learning approach, which in turn leads to better mastery of the subject matter and a better satisfied student. INTRODUCTION Quantitative courses are typically not among most students' favorites. Courses as quantitative analysis, statistics, and calculus tend to be viewed as hurdles which must be successfully negotiated in order to proceed with other degree requirements. Rarely are these courses viewed as a set of tools which can provide insights into other topics. There are probably many reasons for this: weak secondary school preparation, an intimidating math teacher in their past, lack of perceived relevance, or a bow to popular culture that says math is hard and only smart people can do it. As one considers reasons why many students do not like quantitative topics or find them difficult, instructional techniques must also be questioned. Math instruction tends to follow the traditional instructional strategies of instructor explanation followed by student practice. As criticism of stand and deliver approaches has become more prominent, engagement strategies have been implemented to enhance student understanding of quantitative tools and their importance to many jobs (See Hakeem, 2001; Lovett & Greenhouse, 2000; Philpot & Peterson, 1998; Polito, Kros, & Watson, 2004 as examples). In spite of progress, are most college quantitative courses still taught implicitly assuming college students are child learners, not adult learners and does it matter? The late Malcolm Knowles explored the concept of adult learning, which he called "andragogy" (Knowles, 1970, Knowles, 1980; Knowles, 1990; Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 1998). According to Knowles (1998), adult learners have the following characteristics: 1. They like to be self-directed, 2. They want to be actively involved in learning processes, 3. They learn best when they have a need to know, 4. They connect new learning to past experiences, and 5. They need to apply their learning in the real world.

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From this list, one can clearly contrast one assumption of child learning and adult learning: adults require more involvement in the learning process. The only question is, "Do college students have more of the characteristics of adult learners or child learners?" We suggest the former, which has significant implications for the teaching strategies used in quantitative courses. The purpose of this research is to examine the results of moving away from a traditional, pedagogical approach to quantitative instruction to an adult-focused, andragogy approach. We will detail Knowles' concept of andragogy, adult education, followed by a description of how we altered a required quantitative analysis course in the college of business to reflect Knowles' primary characteristics of adult learning. Finally, we will report the results of student perceptions of the learning experience and changes in their subject mastery. PEDAGOGY VS. ANDRAGOGY "Pedagogy literally means the art and science of educating children (Connor, 2008)." The pedagogical model of instruction was originally developed in the monastic schools of Europe during the Middle Ages. Young boys were received into the monasteries and taught by monks according to a system of instruction that required these children to be obedient, faithful, and efficient servants of the church (Knowles, 1984). In the pedagogical model, the teacher has full responsibility for making decisions about what will be learned, how it will be learned, when it will be learned, and if the material has been learned. Pedagogy, or teacher-directed instruction as it is commonly known, places the student in a submissive role requiring obedience to the teacher's instructions. It is based on the assumption that learners need to know only what the teacher teaches them. The result is a teaching and learning situation that actively promotes dependency on the instructor. Evidence that this model is still the most accepted model of learning is evinced by the evaluation systems implemented by most colleges. These systems include discussions and critiques of how the instructors present material and its effectiveness as perceived by students. An unfortunate side effect of a teacher-focused approach to learning is dampening naturally curious learning instincts by controlling the learning environment (Connor, 2008). At some point, however, as learners gain maturity, they become increasingly independent and responsible for their own actions and require different approaches to learning. Andragogy, a concept of adult learning developed and promoted by the late Malcolm Knowles (1998), is based on the assumption that all adults want to learn (1980). Andragogy is defined as, "The art and science of helping adults learn (Knowles, 1970)." Traditional childhood learning is oriented toward the teacher imparting knowledge to the students. As students become older they transition into adult learners wanting more involvement and responsibility for their own learning. The andragogy model, as conceived by Knowles, is predicated on five basic assumptions about learners: 1) 2) 3) 4) Letting learners know why something is important to learn, Showing learners how to direct themselves through information, Relating the topics to the learners' experiences, Learning will not take place until students are ready and motivated to learn, and

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5)

Teaching may involve helping students overcome inhibitions, behaviors, and beliefs about learning (Connor, 2008). As one examines this list, a clear question arises, "How do these assumptions for adult learning differ from "child" learning? The truthful answer, and one acknowledged by Knowles, is that four of the five aren't different. However, children have far fewer experiences, pre-established beliefs, and less repressed curiosity than adults, and thus have less to which they can relate. By the time students have reached college age, most have acquired a significant number of experiences that can enhance their understanding and appreciation of quantitative material. They can, for example, relate to the need to forecast demand in order to make other decisions about the materials required or the number of workers necessary to meet expectations. They can relate to the necessity of controlling costs for inventory or efficiently planning a project. It seems logical, therefore, that the learning environment for these students should contain the characteristics suitable for adult learners rather than the teacher-focused orientation of pedagogy. PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING AND THE KNOWLES LEARNING ENVIRONMENT Knowles provides the following list as essential characteristics of the successful adult learning environment: 1. Learning is a process-as opposed to a series of finite, unrelated steps. 2. For optimum transfer of learning, the learner must be actively involved in the learning experience, not a passive recipient of information. 3. Each learner must be responsible for his or her own learning. 4. The learning process has an affective (emotional) as well as an intellectual component. 5. Adults learn by doing; they want to be involved. 6. Problems and examples must be realistic and relevant to the learners. 7. Adults relate their learning to what they already know. 8. An informal environment works best. Trying to intimidate adults causes resentment and tension, and these inhibit learning. 9. Variety stimulates. 10. Learning flourishes in a win-win, nonjudgmental environment. 11. The learning facilitator is a change agent. The instructor's responsibility is to facilitate. The participants' responsibility is to learn. Experiential learning approaches contain many of these characteristics, especially problem-based learning techniques. The way a topic is taught determines what students can do with the information acquired (Mayer & Greeno, 1972). Problem-based learning is an educational approach that provides students with the knowledge appropriate for problem-solving. It challenges students to "learn to learn," an important tenant in Knowles' adult learning theory. The distinction between problem-based learning and other forms of cooperative or active learning often are blurred because they share certain common features and hybrid approaches abound as instructors adapt methods for particular situations. However, an essential component of problem-based learning is that content is introduced in the context of complex real-world problems. In other words, the problem comes first (Boud, 1985;

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Boud and Feletti, 1991; Woods, 1985). This contrasts with prevalent teaching strategies where the concepts, presented in a lecture format, precede "end-of-the-chapter" problems. In problem-based learning, students working in small groups must identify what they know, and more importantly, what they don't know and must learn to solve a problem. These are prerequisites for understanding the problem and making decisions required by the problem. The nature of the problems precludes simple answers. Students must think critically and analytically and go beyond their textbooks to pursue knowledge in other resources outside their group meetings. The primary role of the instructor is to facilitate group process and learning, not to provide easy answers. Students are encouraged to verbalize what they know, and what they need to know in order to address the problem. The instructor responds to these questions and introduces tools or knowledge as it is requested by students. Such an approach contains many of the characteristics for successful adult learning listed previously. Real problems are used to engage students' curiosity and initiate learning the subject matter, something sorely lacking in most pedagogical approaches to quantitative material. THE STUDY We began our study with several assumptions: 1) College students are, and should be accommodated as, adult learners, 2) Consistent with adult learners, students in quantitative analysis courses want to learn, and 3) Students prefer not to have lectures, especially in quantitative analysis They would rather talk about classroom topics by expressing their feelings or concerns for the practicality of the topics subject to their needs. Our research questions are as follows: "By incorporating the essential characteristics of learning as described by Knowles, can a problem-based learning approach change the learning environment of the quantitative classroom? "Do students recognize the changed environment in terms of the characteristics described by Knowles? The questionnaire in Appendix A was designed to assess the degree to which 9 of the 11 Knowles' essential characteristics of the adult learning environment were present in the classroom (NOTE: Characteristics 1 & 10 were not addressed). The questionnaire was administered at the end of the semester to multiple sections of a quantitative analysis course over two successive semesters. The same instructor taught all sections. Classes taught in the previous semester were conducted in an interactive, student-engaged manner, but not using a problem-based approach or with regard to promoting the essential characteristics associated with successful adult learning. Classes taught in the latter semester were conducted exclusively with a problem-based learning approach. Each quantitative tool covered was introduced through a real business problem. When possible, appropriate videos were shown to demonstrate the importance of solving similar problems and the benefits of those solutions for companies' competitive positions. Students worked in groups and were encouraged to pose questions necessary for them to address the problem. The instructor

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facilitated the learning process by introducing quantitative tools when students recognized their need to use the appropriate tools to gain necessary information. RESULTS We were interested in determining whether students perceived differences in the characteristics of the learning environment when classes were conducted in two distinctively different ways. We were also interested in seeing whether these differences impacted student behavior in the classroom. Table 1 reports the results of simple paired comparison t-tests between answer means from the classes taught in a non-problem-based approach with no regard to Knowles' theory of adult learning, compared to classes taught using the problem-based approach with an emphasis on creating an environment consistent with Knowles' essential characteristics of the successful adult learning environment. TABLE 1

Knowles Characteristic K2: Learner must be actively involved in learning experience K3: Learners must be responsible for their own learning Survey Question(s) I was actively engaged in the learning process. · I believe I was primarily responsible for my learning · I believe the professor was primarily responsible for my learning I was emotionally motivated by the topics in this course. · The most beneficial activity that helped me learn was demonstrations of quantitative tools · ...doing activities and assignments The material in this class was realistic and relevant This class drew on things I already knew. I thought the class learning environment was informal. The instructor used a variety of learning approaches · The instructor's approach facilitated my learning · The instructor's role is to create an environment for student learning Significance Difference Significant at 0.01 No significant difference Difference significant at .05 with latter semester believing professor was most responsible for student learning Difference significant at .05 No significant difference

K4: The learning process has an affective component K5: Adults learn best by doing

No significant difference Difference significant at .01 Difference significant at 0.01 No significant difference No significant difference Difference significant at .01 No significant difference

K6: Problems and examples must be realistic and relevant K7: Adults relate learning to what they know K8: Informal learning environments work best K9: Variety stimulates K11: The learning facilitator is a change agent

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DISCUSSION Introducing a problem-based approach to a quantitative analysis course and attempting to create an environment consistent with Knowles' adult learning tenants resulted in mixed results in this study. Each characteristic examined bears discussion. We begin with those characteristics where there were significant differences between the traditionally presented class and the problem-based learning class. K2: Learners must be actively involved in learning experience. Students in the problem-based class reported being more actively engaged in the learning process than those in a more traditionally presented class. Problem-based learning by its nature forces students into more participative roles. They must work through groups, formulate questions, seek answers to those questions, and engage themselves in subject mastery through readings and work beyond the textbook. K3: Learners must be responsible for their own learning. Students still find it difficult to either accept responsibility for their own learning or to recognize their roles. There was no significant difference between the traditionally taught class and the problem-based learning class with respect to student opinions about their role as primarily responsible for their own learning-they did not accept responsibility in either class. Students in the problem-based learning class thought the instructor played a more prominent role in their learning than those in traditional classes. This was an unexpected result. Perhaps students in the problem-based course felt this was the way the instructor "wanted" them to answer the question; that is, students recognized the class was different and the credit for that difference should be attributed to the instructor. K4: The learning process has an affective component. Problem-based learning and an adult learning environment does evoke more emotion in the study of quantitative analysis than does a traditionally presented class. Anecdotally, students seemed to enjoy the process of debating real problems, especially those with direct impacts on them. An emotional attachment to issues also induces an element of "fun" into the learning process, a characteristic Blaylock & Hollandsworth (forthcoming) found important in the motivation of students to engage outside-of-class study activities. K6: Problems and examples must be realistic and relevant. Problem-based learning uses real problems; therefore, it is not surprising students that students in those classes found the examples more realistic and relevant than students who pursued the topic through end-of-the-chapter exercises. K7: Adults relate learning to what they know. Understanding complex issues requires a frame of reference. The processes used in the problem-based learning classes encouraged students to think about problems in the context of how they impacted themselves or acquaintances. Discussions included many opinions and anecdotes that students eventually realized had to be substantiated and supported through appropriate analyses. K11: The learning facilitator is a change agent. Knowles states the instructor's role is to present information or skills necessary to understand a topic and to "create an environment in which exploration can take place (Knowles, 1980)." Students did perceive a difference in the instructor's

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role of facilitating learning between the two types of classes; however, there was no significant difference in their perception of the instructor's role in creating an environment for student learning. The latter unanticipated result may also be attributable to the answer students believed the instructor wanted to see. Regardless of the classroom environment, students see the instructor as responsible for it. Equally interesting were some of the Knowles' adult learning characteristics where no significant differences were found. K5: Adults learn best by doing. Two questions were used to assess this dimension. Students were asked which activities were most beneficial: demonstrations of quantitative tools or doing activities and assignments. Based on Knowles' theory we would have expected students in the problem-based classes to have found doing activities and assignments to be more beneficial than those in the traditionally taught class. This was not the case. The instructor of all these classes used many examples and different assignments regardless of the overall format. Perhaps students perceived examples and applications presented as equally beneficial in both types of situations. This explanation may also account for the lack of significant difference for K9: Variety stimulates. K8: Informal learning environments work best. Knowles is very clear about the negative impact tests and exams have on adult learning. While the authors provided additional evaluation opportunities in the problem-based course (short reports, mini-cases, and computer assignments), tests remained part of the assessment criteria. This one factor could have prevented students from adjudging the problem-based course as more informal. K9: Variety stimulates. See explanation for K5. CONCLUSION Despite the wide-spread use of engagement strategies, teachers of quantitative courses continue to view their roles as purveying and demonstrating techniques and tools. Such a teacher-focused approach places the onus of student learning squarely on the shoulders of the instructor, rather than where it properly belongs, on the shoulders of students. Adult learning as described and promoted by Knowles begins with an entirely different set of assumptions about successful learning environment: students want to learn, students want to be actively involved in their learning, and students can take responsibility for their learning. Problem-based learning is an engagement strategy which promotes such a learning environment. In this research, we examined the impact of changing the quantitative classroom learning environment from teacher focused to learner focused by using a problem-based approach. We then examined the perceptions of learners in the two environments with respect to the essential characteristics of successful learning described by Knowles (1980). Some of the results were as expected, others surprises. Changing the approach to teaching/facilitating quantitative analysis from teacher focused to learner focused engaged students more, involved them emotionally in the learning process, and promoted a larger framework on which to draw. However, students either failed to recognize their own responsibilities in learning or failed to recognize that they had, in fact, taken over that responsibility from the instructor. Perhaps the role of the instructor is so ingrained in their educational histories that the cultural shift is difficult to make. Unfortunately, the long-term

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implications for such a scenario are adults will not appreciate the abilities they have to learn on their own. REFERENCES

Blaylock, B., and Hollandsworth, R. (Forthcoming). "Improving the Impact of Classroom Student Engagement on Outof-Class Mental Focus in Quantitative Courses" The Journal of Learning in Higher Education Boud, D. (Ed.) (1985). Problem-Based Learning for the Professions, Sydney. HERDSA Boud, D. and Feletti, G. (Eds.) (1991). The Challenge of Problem-Based Learning. St Martin's Press, N. Y. Conner, M. L. "Andragogy and Pedagogy." Ageless http://agelesslearner.com/intros/andragogy.html, Accessed 09/09/08. Learner, 1997-2004.

Hakeem, S.A. (2001). Effect of experiential learning in business statistics. Journal of Education for Business, 77(2), (9598). Lovett, M.C., & Greenhouse, J.B. (2000). Applying cognitive theory to statistics instruction. The American Statistician, 54(3), 196-206. Philpot, J., & Peterson, C. (1998). Improving the investments or capital markets course with stock market specialist. Financial Proactice & Education, 8, 118-124. Polito, T., Kros, J., & Watson, K. (2004). Improving operations management concept recollection via the Zarco Experiential Learning activity. Journal of Education for Business, 79(5), (pp. 283-286). Knowles, M. S. (1970). Modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy. Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, Association Press. Knowles, M. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Cambridge Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species. (3rd ed.), Houston: Gulf Publishing. Knowles, M. (1990). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. 4th edition. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Co. Knowles, M. (1998). The Making of an Adult Educator. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Knowles, M., Holton III, E. F., and R.A., Swanson (1998). The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Co. Mayer, R.E. & Greeno, J.G. (1972). Structural differences between learning outcomes produced by different instructional methods. Journal of Educational Psychology, 63, 165-173. Woods, D. (1985). Problem-based learning and problem-solving. In D. Boud (Ed.) Problem-Based Learning for the Professions, Sydney. HERDSA, 19-42.

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